This disc, first published in 1971, presents an early collaboration between the young Kovacevich and Colin Davis. Almost immediately it became recognised as a most desirable LP offering a wonderful combination of freshness and maturity-possibly a perfect combination. The recording, although good, was just inclined to be a little muddy even when played on good turntables with top quality cartridges.
Since than there have been various CD issues of this recording, all offering recognisable similar sound, but this remastering using 24 bit and 96 kHz technology to recover a fuller range of information from the earlier analogue tapes is a clear improvement. By comparing this CD with a previous mastering on CD it is immediately apparent that there is greater definition and bite to the impact of the dramatic moments, even as early as the opening full orchestral chord, plus a greater depth to the sound-stage. The piano timbre is also more realistic in similar ways.
The effect is to further enhance what was already an exciting recording of both works. This pair of performances is very much a young man's interpretation with plenty of drive tempered by considerable sensitivity and the willingness to relax in the more reflective parts. The slow movements of both works are good examples of that.
There are, of course, considerable numbers of fine alternative recordings of these two popular concertos and it would be unwise to suggest that any one performance can be described as definitive or 'the best' in such core repertoire. Certainly however, it would be reasonable to confidently describe Kovacevich's disc as one of the very best.
Focussing on just a few discs offering exactly the same pairing one should also mention the different but equal claims of three especially. They are those recorded by Radu Lupu with Previn on Decca in 1973 and now available in a similarly enhanced remastering using the same technology. Lupu offers a more gentle and introspective approach which is typical of him but richly satisfying. Leon Fleisher offers a typically high powered version with Szell and the Cleveland, also on a similarly remastered disc and this too has numerous followers. Finally one must not forget to mention the superb modern recording by Andsnes with Jansons and the BPO on EMI, thought by many to be the finest modern version.
All four of these recordings offer performances of the highest distinction, all offering different slants on the two concertos as one would expect from such exalted players. This disc by Kovacevich is the equal of the other three soloists and all have good accompanists and are in good sound. All have their supporters who will assert that their choice is the best. I personally enjoy them all and would suggest that the best option would be to acquire them all. There are also other fine versions of both works but coupled differently ... We are lucky to live in such a rich world of choice.
For those unable or not willing to buy multiple versions, this disc by Kovacevich in its remastered form is certainly worth considering as one of the very best options available.